"No Business With Genocide"
How Investors are Helping the Rohingya of Burma
In response to Myanmar’s military campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya minority, shareholders have stepped up to question companies about their business connections to that country’s military.
Background: Until last year, Myanmar/Burma was home to more than 1.1 million Rohingya people, an ethnic and religious minority. Although they’ve lived there since the country was established as a modern state, Burma doesn’t recognize the Rohingya as an official ethnic group. Burma has denied the Rohingya citizenship rights, and the Burmese army has waged violent campaigns against them, burning villages, murdering civilians, and driving the Rohingya from their homes to internal detention camps and across the border to Bangladesh.
In August 2017, the Burmese army launched a massive new offensive that drove more than half of the remaining Rohingya to seek refuge in Bangladesh. The UN’s top human rights official called this “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Amnesty International has reported that Rohingya in Burma suffer a “vicious system of state-sponsored, institutionalized discrimination that amounts to apartheid,” which meets the international definition of a crime against humanity. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described the offensive against the Rohingya as “ethnic cleansing,” and has already sanctioned an army general responsible for spearheading the campaign.
Shareholder proposals: Since 1993, investors have filed nearly 90 proposals that have sought ways to help in the struggle for human rights and democracy in Burma.
Chevron, the largest U.S. corporation operating in Burma, has worked there for more than 20 years. In March 2015, it entered a production sharing contract with the government-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), just offshore the Rohingya’s home state of Rakhine.
Last year, Azzad Asset Management and the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk filed a shareholder proposal at Chevron, the first of its kind focusing on the Rohingya. The resolution asked Chevron to assess the feasibility of enacting a policy of not doing business with governments that are complicit in genocide or crimes against humanity. Like many first-year proposals it got modest support of just 6 percent, but investors may have a chance to vote on it again in 2018. Although Chevron has publicly supported human rights in Burma and acknowledged a productive dialogue with shareholders, it challenged the resolution with the SEC when Azzad re-filed with five co-filers this year.
Investor letters: In 2017, the International Campaign for the Rohingya and Azzad partnered to organize investor letters to oil companies and jewelry retailers asking them to reconsider their ties to Burma. In August, a coalition representing more than $30 billion in assets delivered such a letter to Chevron. In October, an expanded group of 31 institutions representing $53.7 billion in assets signed a similar letter to six other oil companies in Burma; 24 institutions representing $24.4 billion asked several jewelry retailers not to source gems from Burma that profit that country’s army. Tiffany and Cartier have already pledged not to buy these gems.
Genocide prevention is a key focus for many investors. We continue to press companies to avoid the significant financial and reputational risks of doing business with governments engaged in genocide or crimes against humanity.
Marketing Associate, Azzad Asset Management
Executive Director, International Campaign for the Rohingya